What is it I want or need to write now? Poetry abandoned me. While that is not my primary mode of writing, I found joy in it. The more I wrote poems, and then the more the poems started showing up, the more I felt poetry-writing to get a hold of me. Whether or not I am a decent poet, writing poems have made me a better writer.
Last year was hard. I have been a committed "social change agent" (not a perfect descriptor but better and more accurate than "activist") since the Vietnam War days. The other work I do - on the nexus among ecology, culture, and spirituality, the talks I give, the workshops I offer, the blog posts I write, the website I maintain, my engagement in an urban farm in Milwaukee and core participant in a new emergent community called "The Table" - all of that work and effort intensified at a deep emotional level; it felt more meaningful, necessary, even urgent, a way to stay engaged in a time when everything seems to be falling apart.
Given that history, and despite not being surprised at the collapse scenario that seems well underway now, I was shaken as much as anyone by the 2016 election result, aware of what it would mean for this society. It accelerates every aspect of the collapse, particularly the ecological, political, and cultural aspects of it - pours grease on the slide, as the nation fragments, comes apart as a coherent polity, and as this constitutional order that once held those fragments together also comes apart.
How does one address this people, this culture, at this moment? After all, the point is to communicate, isn't it? How do writers of all kinds help illuminate this moment - in stories and metaphors, in verse and creative narratives? I look for direction, but have yet found my own.
I know this time in our political culture is effect, not cause. It is emergent from decades of a slow, but now rapidly accelerating decline of this empire called the United States of America. I have been reading a lot these days about the collapse of complex societies, empires, civilizations. We have all the hallmarks of the last stages. Empires come and go. What makes this time especially scary, compared to previous collapses down through history (Rome, the ancient Chinese empires, the Mayas and Incas, the Spanish, the British) is the power of our weapons of mass destruction, their potential to destroy life as we know it forever in an instant, and the planetary crisis that threatens living ecosystems all around the planet because of the global industrial growth economy.
We have gotten ourselves into a helluva predicament, yes?
Look, this a hard time to live, to get one's bearings, to stay calm (stable mind, in Buddhist terms), to tamp down the fear and acknowledge the inevitability of this time. It's what we humans have to live through. We have no choice about that. The only choice we do have is the one I offered as title to the last chapter in my 2008 book, Living Beyond the 'End of the World:' A Spirituality of Hope:
In her latest book, Who Do We Choose To Be, echoing my chapter title, Margaret Wheatley, systems thinker, leadership trainer, speaker, and more, writes: "We enter the path by bravely facing reality, willing to see with clarity and discernment where we are and how we got here. We seek to understand the forces at work that created this present world..."what kind of human beings will we be as we go through the crisis?
We enter that path not to throw ourselves into heaps of depression and despair, but to empower ourselves to live creatively in this failing world, to live creatively even as things seem to be falling apart all around us. If anything I write can help us do that, well, that sounds like a mission to me.
I will be engaging an 8-month training with Wheatley this year, training to become a Warrior for the Human Spirit. I'm pretty sure that's going to stimulate some new writing and I look forward to that with keen anticipation, a way to free up what's been simmering inside for much of 2017. I don't know where you will find it yet, but I will get it out there one way or another.
So, stay tuned. This time I mean it. I will be writing. And I will be posting about writing here on this blog.
~ Margaret Swedish